She’s been dead for over 60 years, but an elephant named Miss Fancy might soon return to Avondale Park. A new fundraising campaign, spearheaded by Bryan Council and backed by Friends of Avondale Park, has begun raising money for the construction of a new entrance to the park. The project will include a water feature and a life-size bronze statue of the elephant, a former Birmingham Zoo attraction who serves as an iconic figure in the history of the Avondale neighborhood.
Today, Miss Fancy is perhaps best known as the beer-wielding mascot of Avondale Brewing Company; she also lends her name to the recently opened restaurant Fancy’s on 5th, which stands adjacent to the park its namesake once occupied from 1913 to 1934.
From 1911 to 1934, the southeastern edge of Avondale Park was home to Birmingham’s only zoo. According to Bhamwiki, Miss Fancy was purchased from the flagging Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus in 1913. She was paid for with donations from the Birmingham Age-Herald — whose publisher, Ed Barrett, described Miss Fancy as a a gift “to the children of Birmingham” — as well as the Birmingham Railway, Light & Power Company and contributions from Birmingham schoolchildren.
During her 21-year stay in Avondale, Miss Fancy became a largely beloved figure; her trainer, John Todd, would allow children to ride on her back and would often take her on excursions outside of the park. The Indian elephant’s gentle nature — as well as her documented tendency to become inebriated on whiskey — endeared her to many, though it didn’t stop the city from selling her to the Cole Brothers-Clyde Beatty Circus in 1934, when the zoo became too much of a financial strain.
A small statue commemorating Miss Fancy was added to Avondale Park in 2012, though it was destroyed shortly afterward by a drunk driver. Now, the campaign to replace it with a larger, sturdier installation has raised over $30,000 of its $200,000 goal.
Bryan Council started the “Save the Queen” campaign — after “the Queen of Avondale,” one of Miss Fancy’s nicknames — to honor the legacy of his father, Ron, a lifelong resident of the Avondale and Forest Park neighborhoods. “My dad was working on this before he passed away,” Council said. “He’s always been a big believer in the park and now Birmingham.”
His father — once the owner of the Spring Street Firehouse, now a D.I.Y. music venue less than a block from Avondale Park — had raised funds for the initial renovation of the park 15 years ago. After the smaller statue of Miss Fancy was destroyed, Council said his father declared that he was going to lead the effort for a replacement statue, “‘but this time we’re going to do it right. We’re going to get it life-size and bronze.’”
Council was initially opposed to his father’s idea, he said. “I was like, ‘No, let’s not do that,’ because he was sick at the time, and that was too much for him to try to do. But he was that kind of guy. He was going to do it. He made meager progress on it, and when he passed away, it was like, ‘Well now, shoot, I’ve got to do it.’”
The campaign remains in “early days,” Council said, with roughly 15 percent of its financial goal reached. “To do it right, it’s going to take a meaningful amount of money,” he said. “What I like about the number [we’ve raised so far] is that it’s all $50, $100, $25, $10 donations… I like that, but we’re not going to get to our big number unless we get some corporate sponsors to come along with us. We haven’t reached out to any of those. I wanted to get the branding done and then the grassroots awareness first, so that when we do go to corporate folks we can say, ‘Look, the community wants this to happen.’ I think we can get there.”
Though there isn’t yet a design in place for the statue — “We’ll definitely use a local sculptor,” Council said — the plan is for Miss Fancy to serve as a fountain, spouting water out of her trunk. Though the website for the campaign says that the feature will be a “splash pad” that children can play in, Council said it’s possible that the statue could also be part of a more contained fountain, similar to the Storyteller sculpture in Five Points South.
The important thing, Council concluded, is to reestablish Miss Fancy as a symbol of the Avondale neighborhood. “If you’re sitting on 41st Street, [the statue] would be the focal point for the whole street,” he said. “It’s an anchor point for the whole Avondale community, and really an icon for the whole city of Birmingham.”
For more information about the Save the Queen campaign, visit queenofavondale.com.